The International Labour Organisation’s World Labor Report 2000 showed that increasing trade liberalization and the effects of globalization have resulted in job losses and less secure employment in both industrialized and Third World countries. Attacks on social welfare, healthcare and education, as well as privatizations, labour market deregulation, higher unemployment and strongarm tactics against union organizing are rolling back many of the hardwon fruits of struggle for workers around the world, and are being locked in by international free trade and investment agreements.

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In the name of global competitiveness, labour laws are being dismantled. Deindustrialization, as small- and medium-sized producers are crushed by floods of duty-free imports or by transnational rivals setting up shop nearby, has led to massive job losses.

The policies of liberalization and privatization have marched hand in hand with the restructuring of work and especially casualization and flexibility. As public spending is cut, many in the public service sector are laid off. This has led to the erosion of fulltime jobs, the growth of casual and contract labour positions and the intensification of work. Industry strategies of contracting out and outsourcing work, and the casualization have eroded the unionized workforce, along with the resurgence of temporary foreign worker programs in a number of countries. Bosses are able to threaten relocation of the workplace to a location with a cheaper, non-union workforce to bully workers trying to organize.

Such neoliberal policies force people from their farms, jobs, families and communities and into exploitation and precarity as migrant workers in other countries. Deindustrialization and the downsizing and privatization of essential services — accompanied by increasing user fees — are other “push factors”, forcing growing numbers to seeking work abroad. Health and education professionals in shattered public sectors are forced to migrate in search of work. Free trade, its advocates (like the US Administration) promise, will supposedly lead to a reduction of immigration because countries will become more prosperous. Washington proclaimed that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would lead Mexico to export goods, and not people to the US, yet so-called illegal immigration to the US has risen.

Some FTAs include provisions or agreements on labour mobility, such as deals which Japan has signed with Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines which allow for a limited number of nurses and caregivers into Japan on a temporary basis, prompting critics to argue that such deals merely institutionalize the commodification, exploitation and international trade in workers.

In many countries, trade unions and workers are playing important roles in struggles against FTAs. In Korea, for example, many thousands of KCTU members participated in demonstrations against the US-Korea FTA. Workers throughout Central America countries actively opposed CAFTA, such as those from the state power and telecommunications sector in Costa Rica and education workers in Guatemala.

last update: May 2012


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  • 23-Aug-2013 WNU Honduras: US-Korean maquila accused of CAFTA labor violations
    Some 30 inspectors from the Honduran Labor Ministry visited the Kyungshin-Lear Honduras Electrical Distribution Systems auto parts assembly plant iafter local media reported that some employees had to wear diapers at work because of restrictions on their bathroom breaks.
  • 14-Aug-2013 Pacific Standard How the Obama Administration is hurting American workers
    Leading US companies, the ones that shape government policy, are now able to make healthy profits without spending on domestic investment, leading to policies like FTAs that do not improve living and working conditions in the US
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    The Confederación General del Trabajo (Spain), the Union Syndicale Solidaires (France) and the Central Sindical e Popular Conlutas (Brazil) have extended an international invitation to all organizations that consider themselves part of the combative trade union movement and see the need for social transformation to an international trade union meeting to be held in Paris from 22 to 24 March in order to work towards the coordination of alternative trade-unionism on an international level
  • 3-Jul-2012 Eurotribune “Free trade agreements are, to some extent, an expression of neo-colonialism”
    Interview with Lourdes Castro, chief officer of Grupo SUR and representative of Alop, Aprodev, Cifca and Oidhaco.
  • 3-Jul-2012 Eurotribune “Los acuerdos de libre comercio son, de alguna manera, un nuevo colonialismo”
    Entrevista Lourdes Castro, responsable oficina del Grupo SUR y representante de Alop, Aprodev,Cifca y Oidhaco.
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    As the media swarmed over the scandal surrounding the Secret Service’s alleged carousing with prostitutes in Colombia, another questionable financial transaction slipped quietly through the backdoor of hemispheric diplomacy.
  • 1-Apr-2012 AFL-CIO Joins Honduran Unions in Petitioning US Labor Department
    This week the AFL-CIO joined the main Honduran trade unions to file a petition with the United States Department of Labor’s Public Office of Trade & Labor Affairs (OTLA) concerning the failure of the government of Honduras to effectively enforce its labor laws and comply with its commitments under the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA).
  • 7-Mar-2012 Programa de las Américas El Desplazamiento, un Producto de las Reformas de Libre Mercado
    Este artículo es la primera de una serie de tres partes que analizan las causas del fenómeno del trabajo migrante y los mecanismos que lo originan, y ofrecen propuestas para transformarlo en un sistema más justo y equitativo.
  • 2-Mar-2012 Global Post ’Meet the new boss’: The rise of Colombia’s labor co-ops
    According to labor-rights activists as well as a recent US State department report, many Colombian co-ops function as glorified temp agencies providing companies with cheap and docile non-union workers.
  • 28-Jan-2012 ADITAL El Desplazamiento, un Producto de las Reformas de Libre Mercado (I)
    Este artículo es la primera de una serie de tres partes que analizan las causas del fenómeno del trabajo migrante y los mecanismos que lo originan, y ofrecen propuestas para transformarlo en un sistema más justo y equitativo.
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